Unlikely semi-finals help FA Cup regain some magic
10 March 2014, 21:02
London - Hull City can win the FA Cup for the first time, Wigan Athletic can retain the trophy, Sheffield United can reach the final for the first time in 78 years while Arsenal can end a nine-year trophy drought.
As the Daily Mirror newspaper proclaimed on Monday: "The Cup has got its magic back".
This year's semi-final lineup at Wembley on April 12-13, when Premier League Hull face Sheffield United of League One and Championship side Wigan meet Arsenal, is a throwback to a time when the FA Cup regularly produced unlikely clubs battling for what was once the most glamorous prize in soccer.
The reasons why this year's last four include three unfashionable teams cannot just be put down to the big clubs not taking the competition seriously.
The major explanation is the top sides have largely been drawn against each other - and knocked each other out.
The exception are Manchester United who have won the FA Cup a record 11 times but fielded a much-changed team and lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City in the third round in January.
Tottenham Hotspur, who have won the trophy eight times, were knocked out by Arsenal in the third round and Liverpool, the seven-times winners, were eliminated by Arsenal in the fifth.
Chelsea, winners four times since 2007, were also ousted by Manchester City in the fifth round.
There is no doubt Manchester City started Sunday's match against Wigan eager to avenge last season's shock defeat in the final and to keep alive their chances of an unprecedented domestic treble a week after winning the Capital One (League) Cup.
But Wigan, who won the FA Cup for the first time last season when they beat City 1-0, were hungrier and weathered a ferocious assault in the closing stages to hold on for a 2-1 win and another famous victory.
Manager Uwe Rosler, a City hero from his playing days with the club in the 1990s, said he leaned on the strategy employed by Roberto Martinez at Wigan last year.
"I studied Roberto's tactics. He put out a very good game plan," said the German.
"Last season was an unbelievable triumph for Wigan, to win the FA Cup and put the club on the worldwide football map, and now I hope we can do it again."
Wigan are also looking to regain immediate promotion back to the Premier League after making unwanted history last season by becoming the first club to win the FA Cup and be relegated.
They are seeking to achieve something no team has done since 1931 when West Bromwich Albion won the FA Cup and gained promotion to the top flight in the same season.
Sheffield United, Arsenal and Hull can also look back to the 1930s for inspiration or motivation.
Hull's only previous semi-final appearance was in 1930 when they lost in a replay to Arsenal who went on to win the trophy for the first time.
Sheffield United last appeared in the final in 1936, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal, and are back in the last four for the first time since 2003 when they were also beaten 1-0 by Arsenal.
The Blades are managed by Nigel Clough, son of the late Brian Clough who won everything in the game apart from the FA Cup.
For many years when the FA Cup was one of only two matches per season televised live - the other was the England v Scotland game - it had a glamour and appeal that won a special place in the hearts of fans and players alike.
That has become eroded over the last 20 years with the advent of the Premier League and the Champions League but Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who will equal Alex Ferguson's record of five wins as a manager if his team are successful, knows how important it is.
"You want to win every game you play of course and every competition you enter. We have won the FA Cup four times since I have been here and another win would be just as sweet as any of the others," said the Frenchman.